LPG Spotlight: Key Cooperative

March 1, 2022 By    
Photo courtesy of Key CooperativePhoto courtesy of Key Cooperative

Key Cooperative offers propane for residential heating across Iowa. Photo courtesy of Key Cooperative

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Yet Key Cooperative, a 104-year-old organization, is on the forefront of propane technologies that are just beginning to see adoption in the U.S.

Key Cooperative was founded in 1918 when farmers in the area pooled their resources to market grain. Today, it serves more than 2,000 farmers and 10,000 customers across 13 communities in Iowa. The cooperative also established an energy department that supplies propane for residential heating, farming equipment and vehicles.

In recent years, Key Cooperative turned to polyamide piping, also known as “RTP,” to increase efficiency in applications where propane is used.

Polyamide piping is, essentially, nylon plastic that holds up well to liquid propane, says Joe Montroy, vice president of sales at Bergquist Inc., a distributor of the piping. It is wrapped in Kevlar weave for added strength, is designed for ease of installation and isn’t prone to corrosion.

Polyamide piping has been used in Europe for years with “great success,” says Montroy. U.S. customers have only begun to adopt the piping, and Key Cooperative is one such customer.

Propane retailers should note that the piping is not yet included in NFPA 58. However, Iowa – home to Key Cooperative – is the one state where the fire marshal has approved the use of polyamide pipes for propane, Montroy explains. Meanwhile, other companies and organizations can seek approval from their local jurisdictions to use the piping, he adds.

Tyler Oberender, propane operations and service leader at Key Cooperative, decided a few years back to install polyamide piping, intrigued by the ease of installation it promises. Oberender says the piping is well worth its slightly higher costs compared to traditional piping.

“After the hole’s dug, you just get the pipe installed and backfill and go on to the rest of the project, instead of: ‘Today we’re going to dig the line. Then, tomorrow, we’ll do the other parts of this job,’” says Oberender. “With the polyamide, you dig the hole in the morning, throw the pipe in and move on.”

In addition, the manufacturer installs the ends on the pipes, reducing labor for Key Cooperative and narrowing the room for error.

“It’s a no-brainer in my opinion,” he says. “It’s as simple as putting poly in the ground, because I get it with the ends already on it. Yeah, there’s a little pre-planning to get it cut to length. But to have the factory ends already pressed on for you, it just makes install so much easier.”

Key Cooperative began using the piping for propane-fueled grain dryers. In addition, it recently used it to heat a four-story chicken barn with a 33-million-Btu heating load, Oberender says.

“We do a lot of corn drying in central Iowa, and line of sight sometimes is not a straight line,” Oberender says. “I use as few fittings as possible. If you’ve got to do a curve around a grain bin, it’s a lot easier to use.”

The employees at Key Cooperative have given Oberender positive feedback on their experiences with the piping, he says, and seem to agree that installing these pipes “beats cutting and threading pipe” every 20 ft.

“It’s just very user-friendly,” Oberender says. “I think the industry is moving in the right direction with it.”

Company profile: Key Cooperative

Year founded // 1918
Owners // Farmer- and member-owned
Locations // 19, in 13 communities across Iowa
Annual propane gallons // 8 million plus
Employees // 215 full-time, plus 40 seasonal
Full-time bobtail routes // 7

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About the Author:

Carly Bemer (McFadden) was the managing editor at LP Gas magazine.

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